Utilities scrambled during storm’s rath: Cost of effort still undetermined
In may be remembered fondly by Truckee residents as “The Storm of ’02” for years to come. However, for the public utility district, it only created a squall of headaches.
At the Jan. 2 board meeting for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, staff members delivered a recap of the Dec. 14 through 23 storm that wreaked havoc on trees and power lines throughout the area. The district’s electric superintendent Jim Wilson and power supply engineer Stephen Hollabaugh said that the past storm was the most devastating in 20 years.
“We haven’t been able to put a dollar amount on the damages,” Wilson said. “We’re still waiting for the bills. We used truckloads of material, and we now have to restock that material.”
The district should know the cost of the damages in early February, Wilson said. However, they did spend $6,000 for hotel rooms for visiting crews and $5,000 on food, which should only be a drop in the bucket when compared to cost of materials, wages, and loss of revenue from those who didn’t have power.
“When the top of a power line snaps off,” he said. “We don’t just replace that part, we have to replace the entire pole.”
The district replaced 10 power poles in the week preceding Christmas. It takes 10 to 12 hours for a crew to install a pole. Workers also installed 17,000 feet of new primary wire, 9,000 feet of secondary service wire, and many cross arms and insulators.
In addition to the storm-related outages report, the board unanimously passed a resolution to thank crews from Roseville Electric, Modesto Irrigation District and Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative – 18 out-of-district workers total – for providing assistance during the storm.
“It was amazing that we were able to get those crews out there. All it took was a phone call,” Wilson said. “Some of those guys didn’t even have cold weather gear, but they were there from beginning to end.”
He added that the visiting crews were impressed with Truckee residents, who bought out cookies and coffee to the workers.
The TDPUD had approximately 24 of its own crewmembers, including water department workers, in the field restoring power during those nine days. Although, Wilson said, all 56 employees in the district office participated in the damage control at some point.
After they gave an assessment of damages, district staff presented suggestions for future storms and consequent outages, which included necessary capital items, changes in coordination during a major storm and modifications in how they prioritize the restoration of power.
“We need to make some changes in how we organize our effort in a major storm,” Hollabaugh said.
Suggestions included having a procedure for people in critical situations (like those on life support), instating a better way to spread boil water alerts, and training staff to answer the phones and give necessary information to the public.
Hollabaugh also recommended that the district find a place for employees to sleep during a major storm.
“Many of our employees don’t live in the area. They couldn’t drive home because of the mess on the highways,” he said. “A few of them had to sleep in their trucks,” he said.
Storm damage by area
— There were burning branches on energized lines.
— A transformer was damaged and replaced, because it was only allowing half power to several homes.
— Moderate damage to secondary lines and service drops.
Commercial Row and Brickeltown:
— Only three businesses lost power.
— There was only slight damage to electric facilities.
— Some secondary lines were damaged and had to be replaced.
— Primarily damage was limited to individual home service drops.
— A tree fell into the lines between the substation and Alder Drive.
— Although power was lost to this area several times only minimal damage occurred in this area.
— There was large amounts of damage to the entire area with many high-voltage lines down.
— Because many poles were located in backyard easements, crews had to enter problem areas on snowshoes and the poles had to be climbed.
Prosser Dam Area:
— “The trees fell like matchsticks in this area,” said electric superintendent Jim Wilson.
— On Prosser Dam Road, there were damaged high-voltage lines, transformers and secondary lines.
— “Tahoe Donner did amazingly well,” Wilson said.
— There was minimal damage.
Ponderosa Golf Course Area:
— One pole was knocked down on the golf course.
— Crews are still working in this area.
— There were many damaged high-voltage lines.
— TDPUD crews worked with Sierra Pacific employees in this area.
— Three poles were lost, all of which were in backyard easements.
— Crews had to rig lines “the old-fashioned way,” hanging from trees.
— There was minimal damage in this area.
— One critical pole was damaged and caused the entire area to lose power and water.
— The area was “devastated.”
— Many high-voltage lines were down, including six broken poles and many cross arms.
— Many secondary lines were down.
— The track heater for the rail system switch was down.
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The blaze grew to more than 50,000 acres as of Thursday morning but the Nevada Wildfire Information Map shows that figure could easily be at 60,000 acres.